Oh, baby! Do teen pregnancy reality shows encourage teens to get pregnant?
Years ago, teen pregnancy was something people rarely talked about. Today, however, there are groups of teen girls who aren't afraid to share their circumstances openly with the whole world.
Welcome to the world of MTV's "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant."
But contrary to the criticism that pregnancy shows influence teens to get pregnant, these shows may actually be helping the decline of teen pregnancy, reports say. A December 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the actual rate of teen pregnancies in the U.S. has declined to a record low.
"16 and Pregnant" first aired in June 2009. The CDC reports that since 2009, the birth rate of babies born to 15- to 19-year-olds fell to about 39 percent per 1,000 teens.
But even with the decline, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said that there are still far too many teens getting pregnant. About 1,100 teen girls give birth every day, meaning that one in every 10 new mothers is a teenager, he said.
In addition, teen birth rates in the U.S. are nine times higher than most developed countries, the CDC report said.
But for Chicago sophomore Kaneesha Smith, shows such as "16 and Pregnant" teach her a lesson.
"Seeing the struggle people go through makes me realize that's not what I want to happen to me or anybody I know," she said.
In a survey done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in December 2010, 79 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys said that pregnancy shows make them think twice about the risk of becoming pregnant. Among teens who have seen "16 and Pregnant," 82 percent said that the show helped them better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood.
But Mercedes Matz, a Chicago junior, feels the opposite.
"I think teen pregnancy shows promote teen pregnancy," she said. "While it does show some of the hardships young moms face, some teens are trying to get pregnant just so they can be on the show."
In some cases, she added, teen girls try to get pregnant to keep their boyfriends around or get attention.
Davonte Lewis, a Chicago junior and a teen father himself, said that pregnancy shows are not the only cause of teen pregnancy.
"It's all about perspective," he said. "For a girl or a guy (who knows that) their goals are too important to have a child, then watching a show (about) it wouldn't do anything to (change) that opinion. The promotion of sex is everywhere. Media is readily available to people of all ages."
High school health educator Audrey Gilbert said that a lot goes into raising a child — birth complications, financial problems and difficulty completing education — that pregnancy shows rarely discuss.
"(TV shows) put a lifetime in 30 minutes," Gilbert said. "I think that could give teens the wrong idea that they can handle it ... because they don't show the true reality of a lifetime of having a child."